A week in the life of the free range researcher

Since returning to Australia in August, my working life has taken a comfy new shape. Don’t worry, I’m still rescuing data to improve our understanding of European weather and climate. But now I work from home, surrounded by magpies and hot pies, rather than mountains and the hot Mediterranean sun.

As a remote researcher I am free to work wherever I like, keeping my own hours, and maintaining a level of dress sense that would embarrass most of you.

But despite the freedom that working from home provides, I’ve found that the days tend to slip into a weekly cycle. This is good for my sanity, and for my tracksuit pants, that do need a wash every now and again.

Monday: Home day

I dawdle out of bed at 8:30am, safe in the knowledge that it is still Sunday night in Europe and I have the whole day to prepare things for my colleagues’ Monday morning. Also, my commute is four seconds long. Trackies will remain on all day and productivity is high due to a lack of office distractions.

At about 11:30am I remember the pot of tea I brewed at 10am, and realise why tea cosies are such a good idea. Talking to myself and singing along to the radio while working are standard behaviours on a Monday, as well as a little indulgence of daytime television.

Tuesday: Chore day

Time to brave the outside world and buy some food. Might even put a load of washing on, and do the dishes. Tracksuit pants remain the uniform until lunchtime, when I head to the market and run those mail-collecting, appointment-making errands that you can only do from 9am to 5pm. This takes up most of the afternoon, meaning I am working frantically when 6pm comes around, ready to chat to colleagues who have just started their day. Emails are the last thing I see before I go to bed.

Wednesday: Friend day

Emails are the first thing I see when I get up. For all the freedom of being a roving researcher, the time difference does make it hard to switch off from work. To combat that, I have lunch with a friend and her newborn, again relishing the things that you just can’t do if you work in an office. Plus it gets me out of the house. Cut to 7pm and I am attempting to work, bring in clothes and prepare dinner at the same time. So much for no distractions.

Thursday: Outing day

After three days of being home-based, it’s time to go rogue. My home Internet is struggling to upload the data I need to send to Europe, and my tracksuit pants are starting to smell. Off to the city for me!

I start in a café, feeling like one of those stylish people who work on their laptop in a café. I listen to some St Germain while I code and drink too much tea and try in vain to get the free wifi to upload 5GB of data. I leave, hepped up on tea and busting for the loo, and hole up in a university library instead. Here the toilets are free and (if you’re lucky) the eduroam Internet works. I might even organise a work meeting with a local collaborator, to remind myself of the wide and wonderful world of research in which I am still living. How fun to have an outing!

Friday: Friday

After yesterday’s exhausting outing. I’m ready to bring in the weekend with another productive day at home. Might even stay in my PJs for a while and start working early, before my brain wakes up enough to procrastinate.

While working from home means that you can really do it at anytime, I try to keep my weekends for living. I attempt to draw a line under what I have done for the week, and set things up to start well the following Monday. In reality, this means making a long list of things I haven’t quite finished, waiting for me and my pot of tea on Monday morning.

 

This, so far, has been my experience of working remotely. Is it how you work from home? How do you stay motivated when working by yourself? How does one make a good tea cosy? Please, let me know!

 

Meeting your heroes

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to receive a ERASMUS+ Mobility Grant to visit one of the pillars of climate science, The University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit.

CRU is responsible for one of the most widely-used long-term climate datasets in the world, the HadCRUT record. It also has an impressively long history of historical data research. I was therefore really excited, and pretty nervous, when I got off the double decker bus at UEA on Monday morning. I was going to meet my heroes, peoples whose names I only knew from my well-thumbed copies of their papers. Eep!Read More »

What to do at EGU

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the European Geosciences Union conference in Vienna, affectionately and efficiently known as EGU.

Over 13,000 scientists from across the world get together for a week to discuss the centre of the earth, far flung space and everything, literally everything, located in between. Seeing so many researchers together, in so much comfortable footwear and with such a wide array of backpacks, is a special experience indeed.

This was my second EGU, but my first as a grown-up scientist rather than a student. The first time was completely overwhelming, and I left thinking that mass meetings were not my scientific bag.

But this year was very different. I got some useful feedback on my work, met heaps of new people in my field, connected with some people I’d been longing to collaborate with, and re-connected with great old colleagues and friends.

I am a bit more experienced now it’s true, and know a few more names and faces. This year I was also fortunate to give a talk , and give it at the start of the week, meaning that a) my presentation was out of the way early and b) the few people who did see my talk had more time to catch me and ask questions.

But I was also more prepared this year, and I think I’ve figured out a few of the dos and don’ts  (dont’s?) of EGU. They are, in the order that I thought of them…Read More »

Why we need old weather data

When people ask me what I do here, my standard response is “Soy investigadora, en el Centro de Cambio Climatic”. Most people take this to mean that I work with the political and economic solutions required to solve the diabolical problem of climate change (which they then quiz me about), but sadly this is not true.

I work with old weather.

Yep, old numbers. Historical weather observations taken up to 250 years ago. I find them, digitise them, and check them to see how reliable they are.

When I occasionally manage to explain this in my basic Spanish, people generally look disappointed, confused, and then they slink away.

Recovering old weather data is not at the “coal face” of climate change research (haha, pun), and many people may think that it’s not really important for helping us figure out how we are going to manage the future.

How wrong they are!Read More »

The week the paper was published

“Dear Dr Ashcroft,

I am pleased to inform you that your paper has been accepted for publication.”

Huzzah! Is there any sweeter sentence in the scientific world?! Maybe “the results are significant at the 99.9% confidence level (p<0.01)”.  But the opening line from this email I recently received is definitely up there.

The accepted paper is the last publication to come directly out of my PhD thesis, an adaptation of the final chapter that brought together several datasets I developed and tried to answer a big question using my historical instrumental data: how has the El Niño–Southern Oscillation influence on southeastern Australian rainfall varied since European settlement?

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The week of our first journal club

With apologies to Tyler Durden…

The research group at C3 is a small but dedicated bunch. There are only 15 of us, working in a range of fields from climate model downscaling to data homogenisation, from temperature extremes to model downscaling. The majority are women (including our director), and we are a mixture of local and international scientists.

The range of topics and native languages sometimes makes it difficult to ask for help with those silly battles that we early career researchers face every day: how do I find these data? What type of bracket do I need to fix this line of code? When is the next public holiday? But we get by OK.

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Extending the temperature record of southeastern Australia

This is a guest post that I was kindly invited to write for climanrecon.wordpress.com. Climanrecon is currently looking at the non-climatic features of the Bureau of Meteorology’s raw historical temperature observations, which are freely available online. As Neville Nicholls recently discussed in The Conversation, the more the merrier!


Southeastern Australia is the most highly populated and agriculturally rich area in Australia. It’s home to our tallest trees, our highest mountains, our oldest pubs and most importantly, our longest series of instrumental weather observations. This makes southeastern Australia the most likely place to extend Australia’s instrumental climate record.Read More »

The week of my first lecture

This week I filled in for a professor and gave my first ever lecture as a professional scientist to undergraduate students. Two hours of talking at second-year geography students about the climate of Australia. I now officially feel like an academic!

Although I get nervous (who doesn’t), I usually like giving public presentations. After some training in science communication, I hope that I am not completely crap at them either. But this was my first presentation to an audience that were not native English speakers. Unfortunately I could not rely on our mutual knowledge of Con the Fruiterer, or speak in slang. AND, I only had six days to prepare.Read More »